Sadism & Racism: America’s Juvenile ‘Justice’ System
David Swanson in “Juvenile Prison: $5 Billion for Child Abuse” writes:
Solitary confinement greatly increases suicide rates, and yet is used as a punishment for the offense of being suicidal. ... it is part of a process that fundamentally destroys our young people, a process which we pretend improves them.
Children need love and companionship, safety and trust, respect and encouragement. They are even worse equipped to survive imprisonment than adults. Locked up kids commit suicide at a far higher rate than others, nearly rivaling that of war veterans. ...
The science has long been crystal clear: juvenile prisons are worse than nothing. They increase rather than reducing crime. In our failure to abolish them, we -- and not the children we torture -- are the seemingly hopeless recidivists.
Studies have found that, more than family difficulties or gang membership or any other factor, the best predictor of criminality is whether someone has been imprisoned in what amount to factories for crime.
While the United States slowly, reluctantly, begins to stop throwing away packaging, it remains intent on throwing away people.
Swanson maintains that the treatment used against juvenile prisoners, tens of thousands of them, in the United States would be illegal if done to prisoners of war. “Torture is the norm, not the exception.” Swanson cites some of the most common types of abuse:
deprivation of medical care,
deprivation of education,
sadistic exercises in humiliation,
attacks by dogs,
indefinite detention without criminal conviction
Swanson points out that some of the above abuses used on both juvenile and adult US prisoners eventually came to be used on international prisoners. Swanson also explains that though much abuse is perpetrated by prisoners onto fellow prisoners, the majority of the abuse is perpetrated by the guards.
Swanson highlights some of the more horrifying recent media scandals in relation to the juvenile justice system. Children’s bodies being dug up behind a Florida facility. A Pennsylvania judge receiving kickbacks for sending kids to detention for ridiculously minor offenses. A sexual assault scandal in Texas. An Arkansas institution which hog-tied juveniles and left them out in freezing weather.
Swanson declares that only 8 states were not cited by a national review for system-wide juvenile prisoner mistreatment.
Swanson also emphasizes what most of us already know -- a “highly disproportional” number of kids incarcerated come from poor neighborhoods and have darker skin. Non-white children are more likely to be sentenced and more likely to be given longer sentences.
Swanson lays out a sobering array of statistics about America’s juvenile justice system:
-the US spends an average $88,000 per year to lock up a child as opposed to $10,652 to educate a child
-over 66,000 children are locked up, 87% of them boys
-our police arrest 2 million juveniles each year
-The U.S. locks kids up at a higher rate than any other nation. The next closest is South Africa, which locks up children at one-fifth the rate of the U.S.
-The cost of juvenile incarceration is $5 billion a year
Swanson asserts that most of the public and prefers rehabilitation and treatment for juveniles and is willing to pay higher taxes for such approaches. Tests confirm that these approaches are far more effective. Tragically our government doesn’t act on such evidence. Swanson:
Oregon tried an experiment in Deschutes County, giving the county the money it would have taken to lock kids up and requiring the county to pay the bill for any kid that did end up locked up. The county spent the money on prevention, neighborhood programs, community services. In a year, the number of children sent into the fortresses of misery and horror dropped by 72%.
We've even seen states shut down lots of juvenile prisons, primarily because of the financial cost, and seen the benefits in cost savings, in the lives of young people, and in reduced crime rates. But other states don't follow suit, and the states making the cuts need only see a rise in revenue to begin rebuilding the torture palaces.
Swanson makes the case for the public and the government to stop demonizing our children. He writes:
... the idea that sub-human monsters, of whatever race, must be made to suffer and must be kept away from the rest of us, is the leading candidate as a major explanation of the continuation of juvenile imprisonment.
A more effective and humanitarian approach to juvenile justice would be at the same time a more economic one. It could also lead to a reduced and more humane and effective adult prison system.
[cross-posted on open salon]